Tesco PLC Earnings Call Nuggets: Like-For-Like Outlook and General Merchandise Performance

Tesco PLC (OTC:TSCDY) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Like-For-Like Outlook

Andrew Kasoulis – Credit Suisse: Two if I may. Firstly on the U.K. Can you give us, if not specifically, some sort of broad indication of the food and non-food like-for-like split in the quarter and presumably if you’re going to re-launch the core range of general merchandise in the U.K. you still expect like-for-like to be negative during the rest of the year, so maybe an indication of where you expect non-food to be for the rest of the year? And then secondly, in international, for Europe your like-for-likes in some of the key countries I guess are disappointing, even given the markets. Presumably, you’ve got lots of plans. Can you share some of those plans with us as to how you are going to try and reverse the like-for-likes in countries like the Czech, Poland and Turkey, please?

Philip Clarke – Group Chief Executive: I’ll hand over to Laurie. He will take the question on the U.K. and then I’ll do Europe.

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Laurie McIlwee – CFO: The like-for-like on food for all of the categories with the exception of chilled ready meals and frozen foods improved and were more positive in the first quarter than they were post the Christmas period. But unfortunately the impact of horsemeat DNA issues on those categories did almost neutralize the growth in food. So we’re about natural for our food like-for-like. And then general merchandise got worse in the quarter than it was in the fourth quarter. So, at the high end of single-digit negative. In terms of what will transpire going forward for general merchandise, obviously, this isn’t a short-term fix as we move out of some of the low growth but importantly low margin categories (total lead) times and reconfiguration at stores. It will take a while for that category to turn positive. We’ll start to see evidence of our new initiatives in the Superstores in the coming months and then later on in the year, you’ll see the reconfiguration of both the range but the layout as well in the bigger stores nearer the end of the year and of course, all through that closing will be positive…

Philip Clarke – Group Chief Executive: Thanks Laurie. In Poland and Turkey – I’ll take Turkey first. As we said, our focus there is about getting the model right before we push on. We put that into the same group of countries as China and India. Clearly, the hypermarkets are currently not the strongest performers in the market. The format has moved local. In truth, our pricing and promotion strategy wasn’t quite right. We’ve now got a much better promotional mix and our performance, whilst negative, is really where we planned it would be as we make these big changes. So, it’s all about getting promotions, price, and quality right, and that’s what the team there are focused on. We’re not opening very many stores. We’re saying to the team there come and show us that you can start to get a sustainable return and profitable business before we go faster. In Poland, we took a very big step just at the end of the quarter. We effectively reset our marketing and trading mix, and we’re very pleased with the improvements that we’re seeing. Again, only opening convenience – only opening the convenience that was already in train in the first half of the year and getting the business focused in improving its hypermarket operation. We’ve had a couple of visits there and we’ve been pleased with what we’ve seen. So, we expect better from Poland in the second quarter, although, as you know, the economy there is challenged as most of the Eurozone is, and Poland’s really gone into recession for the first time since the fall of communism over 20 years ago. Thank you.

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Andrew Kasoulis – Credit Suisse: Sorry, quick supplement, if I may. Any indications to how much smaller your core range in GM will be in the U.K.?

Philip Clarke – Group Chief Executive: Oh, yeah. I see the presentation seven weeks ago, you might remember I showed that diagram adding the circle and the center of it food, and then wrapped around it, health and beauty and then clothing and then wrapped around that, the new GM. The new GM doesn’t have very much consumer electronics. That was in one of the new stores that opened last Friday in an 80,000 square foot hypermarket, about the biggest that we do. And basically speaking, general merchandise space is two-thirds of what it was. And that third (bit) release goes into either clothing or into food or into health and beauty which have tended to suffer a bit as we’ve pushed more GM in. And then GM itself are looked at the new merchandising and ranges on Friday morning and it’s basically stationary, entertainment, cook, home, dine is where we major. And so, the ranges are much, much slimmer than they were before and the space is down a lot. And we’re going to get the chance to show you – you’re going to get the chance to see that in the summer when we open Coventry Arena Extra’s remodel, Watford’s remodel, and Purley’s remodel where all of those changes have brought to bear in one place, and then, of course, all our new stores are already reflecting those space changes. So, it’s going to be a drag because we’re getting out of all that stuff which quite frankly dragged our margins. So, that’s why we’re confident about the bottom line operating margin percent, because these are all terribly dilutive and the new ranges won’t be. The new ranges are consumable general merchandise, our flooding into the smaller stores now. So, that will be done by the half year. That will be good for us to the bottom line too. But the big, big change, Andrew, is in the big stores, and as you know, there are 650 also of those that are going to need to be done.

General Merchandise Performance

Philip Dorgan – Panmure Gordon: Just quick questions and it may be instituted. But you said that the general merchandise performance was affected by the work you were doing on the ranges and stuff. I mean, isn’t that more the work you’re doing behind the scenes on the ranges and haven’t yet pushed through, because I’m just puzzled to understand how physically that can affect the sales if you’re improving them.

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Philip Clarke – Group Chief Executive: Well, you know, the (NYSE:GJM) has been a drag to our performance in the U.K. for 8 or 9 or 10 or 12 quarters, because the truth is our ranges didn’t improve as much as we expected them to. We’ve had a couple of false domes disappointingly and I’m disappointed. We haven’t been pushing very hard on our consumer electronics business at all, either in store or online, because what’s the point of doing it if at the bottom line it doesn’t make much of a difference to us. And so that’s where the first and largest and most significant impact was. This time last year in the running to the summer when people were buying more TVs and the brands were pushing very hard on them, that magnified the effect in Q1. Also in that 400 smaller stores, we’ve been de-ranging general merchandise to bring in the new ranges that I just referred to in my earlier answer. So, just as we planned general merchandise is a drag to us and will be for some time. But it’s absolutely part of our plan.

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